Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fiction Fired Brains

As a fiction writer have you considered you might be doing more than providing entertainment and escapism? Have you considered what reading fiction does for brain?

Keith Oatley, Ph.D. (May 12, 2010, Psychology Today)  writes that “Many fiction writers are as scrupulous about getting their facts right as psychologists are when they write a paper. The central concern for fiction, however, is not to report such facts... It's to invite readers to think and feel into the simulations they run as they read a story.” This is certainly an aspect of entertainment reading, but exercising the brain is always good.

Neil Gaiman agrees. (The Guardian, Friday 18 October 2013) states “It's essential that children are encouraged to read and have access to fiction if we are to live in a healthy society.”

Why? Because Gaiman once heard a talk on prisons and discovered prison planners use percentages of illiterate 10 and 11-year-olds in the population to plan how many prison cells will be needed in fifteen years. He feels fiction introduces children to reading, captivates their attention, encourages vocabulary development, lets them think about different situations and predicaments, and develops a pleasure in reading. Reading also develops empathy by allowing the reader to become involved in the viewpoints of different characters.

In another example Gaiman tells how a Chinese official once him that "The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US… and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.” Scifi and fantasy at the time of their trip had been a no-no in China. The first scifi-fantasy convention was then held in 2007. Interesting. Fiction affects imagination.

Christopher Bergland (January 4, 2014, Psychology Today) wrote that a recent study at Emory University found becoming involved in fiction ‘enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function’ in the reader. Again, the reader’s empathy was engaged, and their imagination stretched.

He goes on to tell how reading fiction improves connectivity, cognition, and comprehension. According to neuroscientist Professor Gregory S. Berns, one researcher mentioned in Bergland’s article, “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains."

I don’t believe this applies to children only, but all fiction readers. Therefore, as writers work thinking out plot lines and characters, refining scenes and language, the resultant novel provides the reader more than entertainment and escape, but actually helps develop the brain.


Big Mike said...

So true. Many of the innovations for modern technology stems from SF stories that sparked the seed in the imaginative minds of each new generation. You can always tell the dreamers, those that wonder of what might be, fiction books will be stacked in every corner of their rooms.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I believe it was Einstein who said to enhance imagination in children, " fairytales, then read more fairytales."

Imagining something leads to invention and innovation. Our three adult children played with the wordrobe boxes after each relocation. They invented everything and never in their childhood did they look at a toy and ask "What can it do?" The question was always "What can I do with it."

They are all three creative in their jobs, able to "fancy dance" around problems with originality and hard work to stay employed or get re-employed.

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Thanks Mike and Julie. Interesting comments. I like the Einstein's quote.

Olga Godim said...

Great post, very educational, especially the info about China. Fantasy and Scifi were not widely published in Russia either during the communist times - and their technological progress was slower than in the West as well.

Nikki said...

While SFF may take the honors in stimulating imagination, I would argue that any fiction enhances creativity. How many times have you yelled, "Don't go down that alley" while reading a thriller? Or thought, "What if Scarlet had stepped outside convention and married Rhett right away?"

"What if" is one of the most potent phrases for the imagination.

Julie, I loved your misspelling of "wardrobe" in your comment. Wordrobe--what a fantastic idea for a writer. A big closet full of words.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Happy accident, Nikki. I got through art school that way, too.